The Concept of Freedom in Anthropology

The Concept of Freedom in Anthropology

The Concept of Freedom in Anthropology

The Concept of Freedom in Anthropology

Excerpt

The papers presented in this volume were originally prepared for a symposium organized by Dr. David Bidney and entitled Anthropology and the Conditions of Individual and Social Freedom. The symposium was sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research Inc. and was held at the Foundation's summer quarters, Burg Wartenstein, in Austria, Aug. 3-11th, 1961.

The original motivation in convening this symposium was to bring together a group of anthropologists and humanistic scholars with allied interests in order to examine and explore the concept of freedom and its bearing on anthropological thought. Stimulated by Bronislaw Malinowski's work on Freedom and Civilization (1944), some of us, with an interdisciplinary training and a humanistic approach in anthropological research, decided it was time for anthropologists in particular to focus attention on the problem of freedom from the perspective of anthropological theory.

It has long been a paradox of the science of anthropology that the discipline which began, as Tylor envisaged it, as a "reformer's science," has come to be regarded as a natural science concerned with the discovery of natural laws in cultural dynamics and cultural evolution. In the typical study of social anthropology and "culturology" the individual has no place because the anthropologist is concerned with impersonal, social phenomena only. The chief function of the anthropologist, it is held, is to demonstrate the role of cultural determinism in bringing about the diversity of social institutions and the conformity of individuals to the social mores and patterns of culture. The anthropologist, as the spectator of all time and culture, establishes the facts of cultural ethnocentrism which result from universal, cultural conditioning and hopes, and anticipates that somehow this enlightening information will liberate students of anthropology from the depressing limitations of their own cultural environment. Anthropologists, at least, will be free . . .

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